Sometimes it is nice to just be a monk for the weekend. As I visited Mepkin Abbey (near Charleston, SC) this fall, I was reminded of my first visit to a monastery 20 years ago.

During that visit, I met Brother Edward, an incredibly kind and gracious man who shared my love for music.

As our friendship deepened over my time there, I mustered up the courage to ask some of my “burning questions” about Catholicism and the monastic life. When I asked him to explain the stations of the cross, he said, “It may be easier to show you rather than tell you. Let’s do it together.”

Half an hour later, we stood before the first station, and he proceeded to guide me through the stations in prayer and communion.

Feeling a little more confident, I eventually worked up to my real question about the monastic vocation. “How do you reconcile the monastic way of withdrawing from the world and living in isolation with Jesus’ command to ‘Go and make disciples?’”

Brother Edward paused and reflected for a moment before giving me a profound answer that completely upended my prejudice. “I like to think about it through the lens of the Apostle Paul,” he said.

“In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares the church to the human body. When the human body is healthy, there are parts of it that will never see the outside world. For example, as long as there are no problems, the heart is never directly exposed. However, it is essential — its job is to pump life-giving blood to the parts of the body that are created to touch and interact with the outside world.

“In the same way, we feel that God has called us monks to be the ‘heart’ of the Church. By devoting our lives to prayer, we constantly intercede for parts like you that are called to be the hands, feet, and mouth of the church. We spend most of our days praying for the life-giving power of the Spirit to fill you and work through you. In that sense, we need each other.”

Of course! Why had I not seen that on my own? As a Baptist, my inclination is to look at Paul’s words through the lens of church autonomy — that each individual congregation is a representation of the body of Christ. However, it is also true that each of our congregations is but one part of a larger whole.

This is why we need one another. This is why the work of our fellowship is so essential. None of our churches can give full expression to the complex reality of the body of Christ. None of our congregations can fully accomplish the Great Commission on our own. Our individual ministries will not resonate with every person in our respective communities, but it will resonate with some. None of us can meet all the needs around us, but we each have a role.

After 20+ years in pastoral ministry and after serving as your Moderator for the past 12 months, I am more convinced than ever that “autonomy” may make for good church governance, but it makes for terrible spirituality.

As Baptists, we may choose to partner through voluntary cooperation, but isolation is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus. We need each other.

May God continue to do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine as we walk in fellowship with one another.

I am thankful for the honor of serving as your Moderator this past year.

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